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Council OKs limited parking in distillery lot

SOLANA BEACH — In response to complaints from residents and business owners, City Council agreed at the Feb. 9 meeting to move forward with plans to limit parking to four hours in the city-owned distillery lot on South Sierra Avenue across from Fletcher Cove Park.
When Solana Beach was planning the development of Fletcher Cove, the California Coastal Commission required the city to provide 74 parking spaces for general use by park- and beachgoers. The city bought the distillery lot primarily for that purpose and it remains its largest public parking area.
Shortly after the park was completed in 2007, city staff began receiving complaints from park and beach visitors, business owners and residents that there was insufficient parking in the lot.
Staff monitored the lot mornings and afternoons for a total of 13 days in May, June and January and concluded most of the 82 spaces were used by employees of nearby businesses.
According to a staff report, the lot is relatively empty before 8 a.m. and gradually fills by 8:30 a.m. On a few occasions, staff observed drivers parking in the lot and walking to nearby restaurants and businesses before the establishments were open.
Staff also noted that when the lot was full in the early morning, the park was almost empty and only a handful of surfers were in the water.
Weekdays after 8:30 a.m., the lot was nearly full until 4:30 p.m., even when weather and surf conditions were poor. Plenty of spaces were available almost daily after 5:30 p.m., according to the staff report.
After meeting with a traffic engineer, staff concluded that putting a time limit on the spaces would make the lot more accessible for park and beach users as well as customers of nearby businesses. The plan received support from the Business Liaison Group, Traffic Technical Advisory Commission and Public Safety Commission.
Input was mixed when it came time for public comment, but most favored the limit.
David Carroll, president of the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce, said he spoke with several nearby merchants.
“This is a very serious problem to these folks because their clients … are being deprived of a place to park and consequently it cuts back on their revenues,” Carroll said. “There’s a long list of people who have (said) this is so frustrating to them that the city has got to help.”
Pilates studio owner Robyn Bailis Sirota sent an e-mail supporting the limit because many of her clients claim they are late because they can’t find parking.
“Introducing timed parking to the distillery lot consistent with that used in the Plaza and Fletcher Cove would mean that the lot could be used as it was meant to be, for recreation and for shopping and not for long-term parking for employees or train users,” Peter House wrote in an e-mail. “The public lots further up Sierra could be used by them.”
Harold Buchanan of Capital Partners also sent an e-mail, but he instead asked council members to reject the staff recommendation, saying it would negatively impact his business.
“One of the factors in selecting Solana Beach as our headquarters was parking access,” Buchanan wrote. “Our (10) employees will be forced to park on the street. In the end, we will have to consider relocation to ensure adequate parking for our employees.”
Commercial property owner Jim Rogers said he also favored limited parking, but added that it could create problems with employees parking in residential areas. He also suggested the city improve signage directing visitors to the lot.
“Unless you’re familiar with the area you really do not know there is a public parking lot there,” Rogers said. “It’s not visible at all from 101.”
Council members voted 4-1 to seek approval from the Coastal Commission to limit parking to four hours except on weekends and holidays. Since the city is only required to provide 74 spaces, council also directed staff to ask the Coastal Commission if it could limiting the remaining eight spaces to two hours.
The commission has indicated it would consider a minimum limit of four hours, city staff said.
Council also asked staff to review and improve signage to direct people to the other three public lots on Sierra.
Councilman Joe Kellejian visited a nearby lot that is a 30-second drive away. He said only one of the 36 spaces was being used at the time.
Kellejian said he supports the four-hour limit. “For the sales tax benefit for the city this just makes a lot of sense,” he said. But Kellejian voted against the proposal because he didn’t support the weekend exemption.
He said Saturday bicyclists fill the lot and “that becomes the same kind of problem.”
“Our other lots are perfect for them and they’ll enjoy biking a little bit further anyway,” Kellejian said.
The staff report appears to support his claim. On the one Saturday staff monitored the lot, 81 of the 82 spaces were being used in the early morning.
If the proposal is approved by the Coastal Commission, council will review it after summer and one year from implementation.